Jennifer Marshall,University of Minnesota and Kristin Schwain, University of Missouri | Newberry

Jennifer Marshall,University of Minnesota and Kristin Schwain, University of Missouri

Friday, April 21, 2017

2 to 5pm

Center for American History and Culture Programs
American Art and Visual Culture Seminar

William Edmondson: Life and Work

Jennifer Marshall, University of Minnesota

This paper has four goals. First, it aims to offer a three-dimensional picture of the American sculptor, William Edmondson (1874-1951): an artist simultaneously canonized and marginalized in the field of U.S. art history, where he is known best as an African-American folk artist from the pre-Civil Rights South and the first black artist to receive a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York (in 1937). Second, it aims to reflect upon the limits of traditional archival research in the development of a biography for Edmondson, whose status as a self-taught “outsider” obstructed the usual institutional practices of archival preservation during his lifetime (even at MOMA), and whose race (“Negro”), class (blue-collar), regional citizenship (Nashville), literacy level (modest), and marital status (childless bachelor) likewise conspire against historians. Third, it aims to transform these liabilities into opportunities to think through a number of core issues for the discipline of Art History. These include both the adequacy of material objects as an archive, and the proper place of biography, the artist-genius, and myth in the fashioning of art historical narrative.

A “Museum of Merchandise:” Art and Commerce at Wanamaker’s Department Stores

Kristin Schwain, University of Missouri

The Golden Book of the Wanamaker Stores, published in 1911 to celebrate the Philadelphia merchant John Wanamaker’s fifty years in business, proclaimed: “Eyes must be educated. We do not know what we see, but we see what we know. And so, people must be taught the methods of manufacture … . They must be educated in Merchandise.” A few sentences earlier, the author listed what actions constituted critical seeing: weighing, analyzing, sifting, deciding, and individualizing material goods. The relationships between looking and touching, interpreting and personalizing, were part and parcel with art criticism and art viewing at the turn-of-the-century.

In this paper, I examine the display, marketing, and exhibition tactics employed by Wanamaker, one of the most influential merchants of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, at his Philadelphia and New York stores. Wanamaker firmly believed that the department store was more than place for purchasing goods; it was a place to appreciate art, to cultivate taste, and to learn. He marketed this vision to the same middle-and upper-middle class population that travelled to world’s fairs and visited museums; employed the same rhetoric, referring to exhibits, galleries, salons, and connoisseurs; and deployed the same presentation strategies. Wannamaker’s displays relied on the interplay of academic, commercial, and modern ways of seeing and established the department store as a fundamental force in the development American Modernism

Cost and Registration Information 

Scholl Center Seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically. For a copy of the paper, email the Scholl Center at scholl@newberry.org. Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.